Thursday, December 02, 2004

U.S. broadband woes

A recent report by the little-known but still-influential International Telecommunication Union states that the U.S. continues to slip down the world rankings in terms of broadband internet penetration - we're now down to 13th place. Not good for the country that's supposed to have the 3rd or 4th highest GDP per head. Perhaps one reason for this is that the big internet companies hate competition that might increase public access, but will also crimp their massive profits - especially when that competition is from cities and local municipalities trying to set up broadband access to the internet along public utility lines similar to telephone, water, and electricity provision. Big media companies such as Comcast, SBC, and Verizon are lobbying furiously to stop the development of public high-speed internet utilities. Without the establishment of such networks, I fear the information gap between rich and poor in this country will only get wider. Internet penetration is already plateauing in the United States, while it reaches saturation coverage in vibrant competitor nations, especially in Asia. The latest blow to public provision of broadband is in Pennsylvania, where Governer Ed Rendell (who I used to like) caved in to Verizon pressure and signed off on a law that will prohibit cities from setting up public networks without fiirst giving private companies (like Verizon) the opportunity to set up their own private service. Inevitably these networks will milk the rich and ignore the poor - that's been their practice in the past.

You might like to read the outraged response from Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy.


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